ORLANDO, Fla. — Tiger Woods completed his seasons-long comeback Monday, completing a two-shot victory at Bay Hill to win his third PGA Tour title of the season – and ascending back to No. 1 in the world in the process.
Here are 5 Things to take away from Woods’ three-shot victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational:
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1. HE’S BACK: Behind a staggering performance on the par-5s – 14 under over four days, including four birdies on Monday – Tiger Woods, who fired a 2-under 70 on Monday, has climbed back to the top of the golf wold with his eighth career title at Bay Hill.
Even runner-up Justin Rose – who played with Woods on Thursday and Friday – left impressed by Woods’ eighth title at Bay Hill.
“I think he plays every shot like he plays them on Sunday. His intensity is the same on Thursday often as it is on Sunday, and that makes Sunday a lot less different for him,” said Rose, who fired a 2-under 70 on Monday. “He plays in that kind of atmosphere far more regularly than a lot of guys do, and it’s adjustment for most of us. It’s a known for him.”
That intensity sends Woods back to No. 1 for the first time since Oct. 30, 2010. He has held that top spot for 623 weeks in his career.
Woods points to his ability to “grind” for his steady climb back to the top:
“I think it shows that my game’s consistent. It’s at a high level, and I think you’re not going to play well each and every day. I know that, we all know that,” said Woods. “But it’s getting the little things out of each round. To win back-to-back weeks or like I’ve won I think six times in a row before. You’re not going to play well each and every day.
“But you’ve got to grind it out and get those rounds in, and that is something that I’ve done. I’ve turned rounds that should be 1 or 2 over to under par rounds and that’s allowed me to go ahead and win golf tournaments.”
A look at the numbers surrounding Tiger’s victory Monday:
• It is 77th win in 284 professional starts (click here to see all of his victories)
• Wins 77th title at 37 years, 2 months and 24 days (Sam Snead, who has a record 82 wins, was 45 years, 3 months and 19 days)
• Held a share of the 54-hole lead in seven of his eight Arnold Palmer Invitational victories.
• The win is his sixth in 20 PGA Tour starts.
• It’s his 15th career win in Florida, the most of any state. He has 14 in California and 12 in Ohio. He has won in 16 different states.
• Is now 42-2 when holding the outright lead after 54 holes on Tour; is also 52-4 when having at least a share of the lead.
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2. WATER BOY: Rickie Fowler looked to be making a run at Woods on Monday. But then the par-5 16th got in the way.
Fowler cut Woods’ lead to two shots with a birdie on No. 14. The two traded bogeys on No. 15 to move to the risk-reward par-5 in the same position they started the round in.
Fowler put his drive in the fairway, while Tiger found a bunker off the tee on No. 16. But Fowler’s second ball, a 7-iron, finished a few yards short and trickled down the bank into the water – then his fourth shot found the water again. He’d pick up triple-bogey while Woods reached the green with an 8-iron and picked up a two-putt birdie to take control.
“Up until 16 felt really good. I was trying to put a little pressure on him to let him know I was there. Just like to have that 7-iron back on 16. Just caught it a touch heavy,” said Fowler. “Just unfortunate to make that swing at that time.”
Fowler’s 1-over 73 is a big improvement over the 84 he shot at Memorial while paired with Woods in the final round in 2012. The T-3 finish is Fowler’s best in three tries, finishing T-30 in 2011 and T-50 in 2010.
Fowler is quietly enjoying a solid start to his season, finishing T-6 at both the Hyundai TOC and Farmers Insurance Open. He was also T-13 at the Honda Classic. He had five top-10s in all of 2012.
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3. FINISH FIZZLES: Keegan Bradley made an early move at the leaders, getting to 10 under with a birdie on No. 6, but had three bogeys during his final 12 holes and had to settle for a 1-under 71.
Bradley was coming off rounds of 69-66 Friday and Saturday. He had little success at Bay Hill prior to his T-3 finish this week, missing the cut in 2011 with rounds of 78-77.
Most of Bradley’s success this week came on the par 5s, going 10 under on the long holes while going 2 over on the rest.
“For the third or fourth week in a row, I feel like I’ve played better than I’ve scored. But it’s all good going into The Masters. I’m feeling really good out there,” said Bradley. “I hit a decent shot today. Tiger and Rickie are playing really well, but I’ll take some positives out of this.”
Bradley was T-1 in fairways hit with 46, while T-13 in greens in regulation. But he had a total of 129 putts as he introduced a new putter into his bag.
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4. WICKED WEATHER: Last year, it was Arnold Palmer disappearing Sunday about the time that Tiger Woods was wrapping up his seventh Bay Hill title that took attention away from the course. Palmer had been rushed to the hospital.
This year, it was the crazy Sunday afternoon weather that provided the distraction.
Players such as Charles Howell III had to return to the course to hit one single shot (a putt on 18) after high winds and a downpour caused fans to rush for cover and the exits. In some areas of Orlando, winds reached as high as 86 mph.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Bubba Watson fired a 5-under 67 to vault up the leaderboard, completing his second consecutive top-20 finish at 4 under. He was T-4 in 2012 at 5 under . . . Rod Perry played as a single on Sunday, getting around in less than three hours, but did shoot a 10-over 82 to finish the tournament at 19 over . . . Graeme McDowell, the 2012 runner-up, fired a 3-under 69 in the final round to finish the tournament at 2 over . . . William McGirt, a late addition to the field this week, fired a 4-under 68 to pick up a T-8 finish . . . Thorbjorn Olesen, making his first Arnold Palmer Invitational start, finished seventh at 7 under overall.